In the United States, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses, affecting over 40 million people over the age of 18. Many of us will know what it feels like to become anxious, and it can be difficult to find ways to calm down effectively. There are many things in day to day life that can trigger stress or anxiety, especially in recent months as life continues to change in unexpected ways during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learning a few simple habits to help manage anxiety can be very beneficial, especially now.
Reducing General Anxiety
Anxiety can display itself in a number of ways, and one individual’s experience with anxiety or stress may be different to your own. Anxiety can come in the form of physical symptoms, mental symptoms, or a mix of both. Some of the most common physical symptoms of anxiety are a fast, irregular heartbeat, lightheadedness or dizziness, headache, chest pain, or a loss of appetite. Mental symptoms may include feeling tense or nervous, an inability to relax, being overly focused or worried about the past or the future, and not being able to sleep.
Feeling general anxiety from time to time can be tough, and can get in the way of daily life. There are a number of things that can be done which may help reduce general anxiety overtime. One good way to reduce stress is making sure you are eating well balanced meals regularly. Foods that boost your energy levels and keep your appetite satisfied will contribute to keeping your mental health in a stable place. In addition, try to limit alcohol and caffeine intake. Both of these substances can contribute to spikes in anxiety, and can sometimes trigger panic attacks. A sleeping schedule that ensures sufficient sleep is also crucial. A lack of sleep can lead to low mood and increased feelings of anxiousness. Furthermore, In times of heavy stress or anxiety your body will require more rest, sometimes you should allow yourself to sleep in later or take a nap to recharge.
Moreover, it can be very helpful overtime to try to identify triggers for your anxiety. These may be long-term things such as big due dates at work or school, or a certain person that you encounter often. Triggers can also be factors such as drinking too much coffee, or not getting enough sleep from time to time. Keeping a journal in which you can write down how you’re feeling when you start feeling anxious may make it easier to notice patterns which, once aware of, can prevent such anxiety in the future. Another great habit is to engage in daily exercise, even if it’s as simple as a 30 minute walk or run. Exercise produces endorphins which are natural mood boosters, and can help anxiety to dissipate. If you are finding that you are struggling more often with feelings of anxiety, it may help to talk to someone about it. This may be a trusted friend or family member, or could even mean trying out therapy if you feel comfortable to do so.
Calming Down in Moments of Panic or Extreme Stress
Experiencing a sudden onset of very intense fear or anxiety may be symptoms of a panic attack. This can come along with other symptoms such as a shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, and a general feeling of a loss of control. Panic attacks can be very unpleasant and scary, but tend to only last for a limited amount of time (from 5-30 minutes), and will not cause any damage to your physical health. It can be helpful to learn a few ways that may calm and stop a panic attack. For example, taking deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly. Focusing on your breathing will not only help to ease some of the physical symptoms of a panic attack, but can also distract your mind away from the panic or anxiety you are experiencing. One good breathing exercise is as follows:
Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth
Breath in gently and regularly. Sometimes it might help to count steadily from 1 to 5. It may be hard to reach 5 at first
Without pausing, or holding your breath, let the air flow out gently, again counting from 1 to 5
Continue this process for 3 to 5 minutes, or until your breathing has returned to normal
It can also be useful to acknowledge that you are having a panic attack if you are able to. It may feel silly, but talking out loud to yourself and recognizing that you are aware that you are panicking and that it is only temporary, can help to bring your mind back to calmness.
Another technique that can help during a panic attack is to find one object around you to focus on intensely. This could be for example, a lamp on the table beside you. Focus only on that object and list in your head, or out loud, everything you observe about it: its color, its shape, textures, materials from which it’s made and more. This is an extremely effective way of distracting yourself from anxious thoughts that can sometimes cause a panic attack.
Conquering COVID-19 Related Worry
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a huge learning experience filled with unknown circumstances, and sometimes frightening events, anxiety is at an all time high. Becoming accustomed to the new normals of our world is not only difficult, but can leave a lot of people feeling very out of control, scared, and confused. It is important to remain aware of how you are feeling, and try to manage the stress and anxiety as best you can. Most importantly, try to continually remind yourself that these fearful feelings are being shared by everybody, no one is alone in navigating our changing world, and we are all doing the best that we can.
One way to help reduce worries surrounding the pandemic is to keep a schedule that can contribute to a feeling of normalcy, and keep you busy and distracted even while working or studying from home. Some examples of things to put on this schedule could be set times for eating your three meals a day, reminders to get up and out of bed at an early time, get dressed for the day, or noting a small errand that you need to complete. Keeping a healthy routine will help your brain feel less trapped in a negative place that could be caused by low stimulus or activity level.
If you are feeling especially anxious about the pandemic, it is important to limit the amount of time spent on social media or news outlets that share a lot of COVID-19 related information and updates. While it is important to stay informed and aware of the world, too much of this negative information can lead to bad anxiety or low moods. Take time away every day from news stories related to these events to give your mind a break from direct stress triggers.
Living at home with other immediate family members can become difficult, especially now as we find ourselves spending more time at home together. Becoming stressed or frustrated at family members in your home is completely normal,but being at odds with the people you live with can also exacerbate stress. It is vital that you are able to acknowledge when it’s time to spend some time alone. Making sure that you take time for yourself is always important, but it can also help to prevent arguments or tension with those who are your greatest support systems.
By contrast, this time at home may provide the perfect opportunity to make new memories with your loved ones at home, or to try something new together. Those with whom you live are sharing not only the same experiences during these unprecedented times, but also most likely the same worries.
Furthermore, be sure to reach out to friends and family through technology as often as possible. While we can’t travel as much, or see all the people we may want to, it is important to keep in contact with loved ones to avoid feelings of loneliness while at home. Speaking to people you care about can also lift your general spirits and make you feel happy. If it is a comfortable option, share your worries with those around you for reassurance. Everyone is feeling similar things these days, and it’s essential to remind ourselves that we aren’t alone in these crazy times.
Arguably the biggest aspect of managing COVID-19 related stress is accepting that not everything is within our control. As hard as it can be when your mind is anxious, putting your worries into perspective can help immensely in reducing stress. Especially with regards to the pandemic, it is understandable to be scared and feel uncertain, but focusing more on the things you can control may make it easier to be productive and calm through the unfolding of world events.